Monday, September 29, 2008

Buckingham Street

This is a bit of a mystery photograph. The shop was on the corner of Buckingham Street and Radcliffe Street, opposite the Gas Showroom. I cannot remember anything about it. The "Dura Glit" signs in the window suggest that it may have been an ironmongers  but that is purely a guess.
By the time this photo was taken (1968) the shop had probably fallen on hard times and closed. You can see from this photo how the wall stepped down as the road sloped down to Church Street and Eady, the butcher.

Fish and Chips


One of the weekly rituals in the40s and 50s was a mid-day meal of Fish and Chips on Saturday.  Virtually everyone did it so the queues outside Wolverton's two Fish and Chip shops were always long. I expect the practice originated out of a desire to give the housewife a bit of a break.The following morning (Sunday) she would be preparing one of the major meals of the week.
The fare was simple, undeviating and nutritious - cod fried in batter and deep fried chips. An order was placed on paper, sprinkled liberally with salt, wrapped, and then wrappedin newspaper to keep it warm while it was carried home.
As I say, there were two shops.  Lloyd (I think that was his name) Billingham  has the outlet on Creed Street. I took this photograph in the late 60s shortly after the demolition of the Little Streets. For some reason, probably because he had to carry on with his trade, he was given a stay of execution, so the shop remained for a while quite isolated amidst the rubble. In the background of the picture you can see the Training School.
In general the fish and chip shops opened weeknights and Saturday.
The second outlet was located in the middle of the block at the top of Peel Road. The St. Johns Ambulance had their headquarters here and a garage for the single ambulance. Mr Larner,a cheery man with a toothy smile, ran the shop which I think was on the ground floor of the back building. The buildings have been modified since those days so it is hard to picture it exactly.

The Square 1968-2008



The first picture was taken in the mid to late 60s - I'll say 1968. The corner shop was a Co-op grocery. The Co-op, the Wolverton Industrial and Provident Society, to use its proper name, was a dominant force in Wolverton shopping. About half the retailing outlets in the Square and a good number in Church Street were run by the Co-op.
You can see the houses that used to be part of Buckingham Street and the Gas Board showroom on the corner of Radcliffe Street. The old style corner lamppost has been removed but the post box (presumably the same one) maintains its place. The pram that the woman is holding, although smaller than those of the 40s, is of a type not seen nowadays.
1968 pre-dates the supermarket, although groceries like the Co-op and Dudeney and Johnston on the diagonally opposite corner were  offering a larger range of foods. Food shopping was still a daily occurrence in the late 60s but the acquisition of fridges and the arrival of packaged foods meant that more could be stored at home.

A Theatre Production at the Church Institute - 1958


































As this is the centenary of the opening of the Church Institute on Creed Street, and MADCAP are celebrating the event, I thought I would post this programme from 1958 - exactly 50 years ago.
The G&S production by the grammar school had been an annual event since 1949. The driving duo behind this enterprisewere Harold Nutt, the Music master (pictured above in a woodcut by Peter Lowe the Art and Woodwork teacher) and Robert Eyles, Senior Master and English teacher.
Mr Nutt was a very energetic and charismatic teacher and it was entirely due to his enthusiasm that there was a school orchestra and musical productions. Andrew Morgan, son of Donald Morgan the headmaster, has remarked elsewhere that Harold Nutt was the first music teacher employed by the school, so he was the originator of many things. As we lined up outside the music room to go into class he would invariably say "Lead on Macduff!" to the boy at the front. I only found out years later, when I actually read Macbeth, that Shakespeare wrote "Lay on MacDuff!"
Mr Eyles was a good English teacher, although he could be a little tetchy at times. One occasion sticks in my mind because I was on the receiving end of his tongue-lash. he was taking us through a poem and told us that a tabor was a musical pipe. I looked it up in my dictionary and offered, "It says here sir, that it's a drum." "What sort of dictionary is that?" he rounded on me, "A Woolworth's dictionary!" To which of course there could be no response.
Anyway, Harold Nutt looked after the musical side and Robert Eyles the acting side, also taking for himself the part that had the clever lyrics - in this case the First Lord of the Admiralty.
The pair were also good friends as well as colleagues and ould regularly meet up in the Saloon bar of the Vic on Sunday lunchtime.
The school orchestra rehearsed separately from the cast until about a week before the event. I think there were about three performances and the Church Institute hall was packed always. The orchestra took up its place in front of the stage, roughly in the area now taken up by the thrust stage and the whole cast managed on what is quite a small stage. I think the the school's G&S productions were performed in the Empire theatre in the early years, but I suspect that the cost became too high.
In 1956, G&S was dropped for a production of a play called "Lady Precious Stream" produced by the history teacher, Oscar Tapper. Music still featured, as Mr Nutt composed (or perhaps orchestrated) some entracte music for the occasion. The musical production returned in 1957 with "Lilac Time" based on the story of Franz Schubert, and of course using his music. And in 1958, the witty and popular Gilbert and Sullivan mad their return to the Church Institute stage.

Theatre in Wolverton - 1958

Last week I visited the Church Institute, probably for the first time in 50 years. It is now MADCAP Centre for Performing Arts; structurally, the building is little changed.

The stage is a proscenium arch type and was the only kind known to our Edwardian forebears, but the present incumbents have built a thrust stage in front of that to give themselves more production flexibility. Modern lighting hangs from the ceiling tie rods and modern blinds have replaced the old blackout roller blinds. The parquet wood block flooring is original and has now lasted exactly 100 years.  The architect was John Oldrid Scott, who, like his more famous father, was responsible for the design of an extensive range of ecclesiastical architecture across the country.
I've written about the Church Institute before, but I now want to reflect on its role in theatre production.
Typically theatre was not a very accessible experience for Wolverton's inhabitants. Only large towns and cities had professional theatre companies in the 1950s. Northampton was relatively close with the Repertory Theatre and the New Theatre. Oxford offered the only other provincial alternative, otherwise it was London. I do not recall Bedford having a professional theatre. The Northampton rep. used to put up weekly posters outside Dimmocks Grocery store on Aylesbury Street, so they must have attracted some regular theatre-goers from Wolverton. The New Theatre was, I believe, largely given over to Variety Shows. I have some photographs of my father singing there in the 1940s which would suggest that this was so. I do recall going to see pantomime there as a child.
Repertory theatre was probably very hard work - rehearsing next week's production during the day and performing the current production at night, with two weekly matinees. I think we were taken to see a Shakespearean production once as a school party and I know that on my own initiative I went to see the rep's production of Sheelagh Delaney's "A Taste of Honey", which was the hot play of 1958.
But back to Wolverton. I think touring companies would come through every now and then. I do remember the D'Oyly Carte touring group coming to Wolverton in the late 40s, because my mother boarded some of them in our house. This was my first encounter with thespians. Touring Variety Shows also came to Wolverton  and usually performed on the stage at the Works Canteen. Local amateurs and semi-professional entertainers frequently put variety shows together; several were held at the Top Club.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Gora Blimey!

Today I stepped inside the Agora. I was shocked. My expectation, given that the planners of the day had seen fit to demolish  complete sections of Church Street and Buckingham Street and isolated the Square from Church Street and the Front, was that the interior would be an indoor shopping centre. Instead I encountered a warehouse. I see now that it must have been the planner's intention to replace the traditional market with a new superstructure in the middle of the town.
Well, let me say this. The project is an abject failure.
The market that ran every Friday in the Market Hall was a vibrant living organism. Many traders of all stripes set up their stalls inside and out and I don't recall many vacancies. United Counties scheduled buses from all the outlying villages on Friday morning and returning at lunchtime. They were mostly full and the Friday market was a very crowded place.
One job which I took on in my teens was to help one trader, Harry Tooth, to unload his rugs, tablecloths and bedlinen from his van. I would help him unload before school in the morning and load up after 4 in the afternoon. So he got in a full day's trading at Wolverton market.
Fifty years later I still see town markets flourishing so I see no reason why the old Wolverton market could not have continued to thrive.
Wolverton had certainly grown in an unusual way because of Railway Board decisions. Once Bury, Garnett and Walker Streets had been razed, the commercial traders had to move but before too long the Front and Church Street had formed a new shopping centre ith residences to the east, south and west. When the little streets were flattened in the 60s the eastern side was gone and the town became once more lop-sided.
The planners and builders of the Agora could have justified their decision had they built a shopping centre with important tenants - but a warehouse doesn't cut it!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

School curriculum 1931-1958



















I just discovered my Mother's school certificate, awarded in 1931. I've contrasted it with my GCE O Level, taken in 1958. We both went to the same school and in some cases had the same teachers, but things did change over a generation.
In 1931 she studied:
English Language and Literature
French
History
Geography
Mathematics
Botany
Art
Needlework (These subjects written on the back in Mr. Boyce's elegant handwriting.)
In 1958, I took:
English Language and Literature
French
History
Geography
Mathematics
Latin
General Science
Additional General Science.

6 subjects were identical; the other three represented changes.
The obvious difference was that some of the subjects she took were gender-specific. like Botany and Needlework. Although Physics and Chemistry were taught there in 1931, they were not taught to girls. It is also probable that the Zoology aspect of Biology was not deemed appropriate for a girl's tender sensibilities.
In my day we were required to drop subjects like Art and Woodwork in favour of more academic subjects. Physics, Chemistry and Biology were lumped together  for a General Science paper, but in 1957, after the Russians launched the Sputnik satellite, there was a great scurrying around to improve science teaching. As a consequence, we were given extra science lessons and entered for an extra science paper called Additional General Science.
Later, Physics, Chemistry and Biology were offered as separate papers 

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Church Street Shops



On the north side of Church Street, between the Wesleyan Chapel and The Victoria hotel stood a parade of shops and commercial services.
At Number 6, The "Brighton" Bakery run at the time by Cyril East. Next door at No: 8 AG Leigh a Chemist. I think there had been a chemist here since the 19th century. These two old 3 storey terraced buildings still survive.



I can't remember who was at Number 10, but at Number 12 Ken east and his wife ran the Central Cafe together with a banquet catering business. These two buildings are now demolished.

After the GPO and the Empire there was a Gentleman's Outfitter, Chowns. Mr Chown also supplied boy's school uniforms for the Grammar School. Next door at Number 28, a jewellers, as indeed it is today. In the 50s the proprietor was W.S. Hawkins.
 Number 30 was called "Donnies" in the 1960s - a sweet shop. Before that I do not know what it was called. I am not sue at this atge about no 32.















At Number 34 a grocer - Ellerys in the 1950s and earlier and subsequently a food or convenience store of some sort. Next door a confectioner Pollard.
Next door to the Vic was a watchmaker and jeweller, T F Taylor

The Empire


Of the two cinemas in Wolverton I tended to favour the Empire. This probably dates from the Saturday morning experience in the early 50s where we could go to watch a collection of cartoons and short features for 6d. The manager of the Empire at this time was quite enterprising and offered prizes for various talents during the interval. He thus guaranteed that the auditorium was packed.
Where there are now two windows and a double door was an open foyer. The ticket kiosk was on the right . Inset were two double doors leading into the picture house. The walls held posters featuring the latest films.
In the 50s cinemas still offered a main feature film and a "B" film as part of the same programme. In part this practice dated back to the times when films were much shorter but it was also a means of protecting the declining British film industry. Even though Hollywood films were the main attraction, a British film could still get into the cinema as a "B" feature. This was a restrictive trade practice but it did ensure that quite a lot of good British films, albeit low budget, found and audience.
The film programme probably changed twice weekly on Wednesday and Saturday. I would imagine that in those pre-television days many people went to the "pictures" twice a week.
Showings were also continuous, so if you missed the first ten minutes of the film you could sit through the entire programme and pick up the first ten minutes at the beginning of the next showing.
In my child's imagination The Empire was an important and imposing building. It looks rather unimpressive today.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Postal Service


Back in the 50s the Postal Service was the cheapest form of long distance communication. Telephones were expensive and uncommon - a few minutes telephone conversation might cost four times the cost of sending a letter. Nowadays those relative costs  have been reversed.
The General Post Office, built in the 1930s, has changed little externally. The main entrance led to a public area on the left with counter stations where one could buy stamps, postal orders, pay for parcels etc. The rest of the building was given over to a sorting office and administrative offices. I think there was a public call box inside the front door.
Until the creation of British Telecom the Post Office had charge of the telephone service. The telephone exchange may have been located here. I am not sure.
Telephones were rare in the 1950s. A few residences had them and people who provided services like doctors and plumbers. Not many retail businesses had a telephone. I don't suppose they saw the point. Shops were open during strictly enforced opening hours. Shoppers bought from the stock you had on hand. It would not have occurred to anyone to phone up and ask if they had such and such in stock and what was the price.
To give some idea of the general scarcity of telephones, Wolverton was in the Bedford Telephone Directory which was about 1cm thick in 1955 and covered Bedfordshire, North Bucks and North Hertfordshire. Public call boxes were also rare. Apart from the one at the General Post Office, I can only remember one other - at the works entrance by the Station. There may also have been another by Anson Road. Even if they wanted to use a phone Wolverton residents would have had to walk a long way  for a call box.
There were still two daily postal deliveries in the early 50s. There was never as much in the "second post" as in the first one in the morning. At Christmas time delveries were constant. 
Our postman was a man called Charlie Phillips whom we children regarded as rather strange. He used to call across the street to us phrases like "Ows yer mother off for soap?" To which there could be no reply because we did not understand what he meant - possibly something to do with rationing.  He was regarded as quite harmless.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Reconstructing Church Street

After the demolition of the "Little Streets" Church Street remained one of Wolverton's oldest streets, but a decade or so later a good section of Church Street itself met the wrecker's ball.
The Agora, a covered shopping centre, took up a complete block of Church Street and Buckingham Street and closed off Radcliffe Street into the bargain. The section of Buckingham Street was almost entirely residential and the houses looked very much like those that remained. The only unique building to go wsa the Gas Board Showroom on the north west corner of Buckingham Street and Radcliffe Street.
The south side of Church Street was not as fully developed commercially as the north side and was a mixture of residential and commercial. Those that had developed shop fronts had large plate glass windows with the exception of Antees, Eady, the butcher and King the baker.
Starting from the back lane by the Science and Art Institute and the churchyard was the Sketchley Dye Works - so called but really a drop-off and collection point for laundry and dry cleaning. My father, in common with most other men of the period, wore detachable shirt collars. As far as I recall they were never washed at home with the rest of the laundry but were sent away for cleaning. They always came back stiff with starch. I assume Sketchley provided this service. This building was numbered 7.
Number 9 may have been a residence, but at Number 11, for a time, was E A Read, a fishmonger. Tilley's, one of Wolverton's coal merchants, had their office at Number 13. Winter heating depended entirely on coal in those days and coal, coke and anthracite was delivered to household cellars or bunkers in blackened hessian hundredweight sacks.
The Co-op occupied Number 15 but I am not sure in what capacity. At Number 17 the Northampton Chronicle and Echo maintained an office, presumably to pick up local news and sell photos and other services.
The Co-op Mens Outfitters could be found at 19.
Numbers 21,25, 29,31,37 were residential.
ET Ray, the Stony Stratford firm of solicitors, maintained a Wolverton office at Number 23.
WG Sellick, who also had a garage at New Bradwell, had a service garage at Number 27. I think access must have been from the back alley. because all I remember of the shop window is that it was used to store tyres. In later years, as people began to buy cars, Sellicks formed Wolverton Motors and had a purpose-built garage on the Stratford Road. 
Anstee's. at Number 33, was a music shop. Here you could buy sheet music (still a business mainstay in the early 1950s, gramophone records, radios (they were still called wireless in the 50s) and record players. The mid-50s saw us begin to make the transition from the 78rpm disk to 45rpm EP (extended play) and 33rpm LP (Long Play). The two latter were manufactured using a vinyl compound which could bend and did not shatter easily. EPs were 7 inch diameter and used for pop singles. They had a punch-out centre for use in juke boxes. The other technology that came along with this was the diamond or sapphire stylus to replace the old steel needle. The LP catalogue in the mid-50s was mainly classical with some jazz and musical shows. The pop album had yet to be invented.
Next door the Co=op had one of their two Butcher's shops; the other was at the top of Jersey Road.
On the corner of Church Street and Radcliffe Street, at Number 39, was Eady the butcher. The entrance was at the corner angle.
All of these shop had steps.
At Number 41, on the opposite corner was a bakery, run by Mr and Mrs King with the help of their sons and one employee called Alf. Mrs King ran the shop and wrapped the loaves in a single sheet of white tissue for the customers who queued each morning for fresh bread. Mr King would deliver bread to customers in a pony and trap, usually in the afternoon. Baking started in the very early hours of the morning.
Further on from Kings were two more shops, Strickland's - a wool shop, and a men's barber, owned in the early 50s by Farndon and subsequently by Garwood. These were numbered 45 and 47.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Church of St George the Martyr


This view of the church was not available from 1864 to 1970. It was hedged by the Science and Art Institute on the north side (this view), Creed Street on the east, Buckingham Street on the west and the Vicage grounds on the south side. Early drawings of the church were quite at odds with my personal experience in the 1940s and 50s. It was really difficult to step back far enough to get a good view. I suspect that there was a pathway to the church from Church Street in the 1850s, which would have given more credence to the naming of this street. As a boy in Wolverton it made no sense to me that the church was not on Church Street.
The most used entrance to the church was from Buckingham Street. Parishioners from the little streets would come through the lych gate on Creed Street and into the entrance on the north side.

The Science and Art Institute

The Science and Art Institute had the distinction of being the second "mechanic's institute" in the country - the first being Owen's College, which later became  the University of Manchester. The Science and Art's history ended up by being much more modest. The Mechanics Institute started in 1840 without any permanent buildings and it took until 1864 before a proper dedicated building was available; this, to provide its new name the Wolverton Science and Art Institute. The new building on the corner of Church Street and Creed Street had 12 classrooms, a library, an auditorium and a lecture theatre. Evening classes were offered in a range of academic and practical disciplines.

I think a technical school was founded there in 1925 or 6. By the 1950s it had taken on its role within the confines of the 1944 Education Act which created Grammar Schools (selection at 11), Technical Schools (selection at 13) and Secondary Modern Schools (general education from 11-15).

I'm afraid a lot of assumptions about social mobilty were built into the 1944 Education Act. Grammar School pupils would fill clerical and managerial positions, boys who went to the "Tech" would fill technician roles while girls who did shorthand and typing would become office girls, and the rest who spent their last four years of schooling at the Aylesbury Street school without science laboratories and only a woodwork shop and cookery classroom in addition to their ordinary classrooms, would end up in all the other jobs. This stratified vision of education began to unravel in the 1950s when the Tech was merged with the Grammar School to create the Radcliffe School. Eventually the "Secondary Modern" disappeared before a wave of comprehnsive schools.

I had little to do with the Science and Art Institute. I delivered papers to the Reading Room on the occasion I took that round. I went to meetings of the Wolverton Photographic Society each Wednesday as a teenager. So I have few memories of it.

In 1970 it was razed to the ground after a fire. 

The Church Institute



When I took this picture this year I was struck by how much was visible from Creed Street. On closer inspection it became obvious that the wall had been lowered by three or four feet. In my childhood and youth the building was always surrounded by a high wall.

The Church Institute was built in 1908. Downstairs it had some large meeting rooms and offices' upstairs a stage and auditorium. The stage was used for amateur dramatics (the St George's Players), concerts, the annual Gilbert & Sullivan production by the Grammar School and various other functions like flower shows. It was one of four stages in the town - the others being the top club, the Works Canteen and The Science and Art Institute. The Works Canteen was by far the largest auditorium and was used whenever a large audience would be expected, such as the Remembrance Day concert, which in the 1950s was always well attended. The Science and Art Institute hall was used for dances and exhibitions. All, with the exception of the Works Canteen, could only be reached by stairs - wheelchair accessibility had not entered anyone's mind in those days.

I was packed off to Sunday School in the 40s and 50s so I was a regular user of the Church Institute. Later I appeared in the Grammar School orchestra in Harold Nutt's annual G&S productions and the downstairs rooms were used as an examination hall for GCE.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sunday School


Sunday was not my favourite day. We were not allowed out to play because our noise might disturb the hard-earned rest of Wolverton's citizens. The same strictures applied to all my friends, so you would see them for six days a week, but never on Sunday.
However we were bundled off to Sunday School - probably for 9:00 am.
This picture was taken in October 1948 to mark the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Sunday School in Wolverton. I am guessing. The inscription in the book of Common Prayer I was given to commemorate the occasion refers to the "Centenary Festival". Since St. George's foundation stone was laid in 1843, iy cannot be this - unless 1848 denoted the completion of the church. I can identify many of my contemporaries in this picture but I won't name them here because of the quality of the image. The Vicar at the time was C. Oscar Moreton. I think he retired a few years later. The curate I cannot identify, nor the woman in the centre who was probably the Sunday School Superintendant. She retired from this duty shortly after and was succeeded by Mr. Eales.
At Sunday School we learned the ten commandemnts by rote and the Catechism. We were also told various bible stories with explanations of the significance. Some concepts, like the Trinity, were hard for young minds to understand. I think I got God the Father and God the Son, but I could never get my head around God the Holy Ghost. Usually we were broken up into groups by age and taught whatever was appropriate by one of the teachers, the we would come together for some sort of assembly led by Mr Eales. Mr Eales was a tall, lean, earnest man and was a very committed Christian. He spoke more  than once of his ambition to travel to the Holy Land (difficult enough in those post war years) and I believe he achieved this dream. His son Stephen, a year older than I, was musically talented, and apart from playing the clarinet alongside me in the school orchestra, played the church organ in his late teens.
The photo would suggest that the school was quite well-attended in those days but this was only a section of the population.
The photo was taken in front of the stage at the Church Institute. The stage was conventional for the period with a proscenium arch and a small apron with steps on either side. Note also the wood block parquet flooring.
I must have spent a few years in Sunday School because I can remember going there first and then going to church to sing in the Church choir at sung eucharist. Sunday school at 9; Church at 10:30; home by 12 for the Billy Cotton Band Show. That was Sunday morning!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Villas

Tucked away, down a narrow approach road just across the railway and canal bridges, were four Victorian houses - twos sets of semi-detached houses. In the 50s they carried the names of The Hawthorns, The Limes, Yew Tree Villa and The Firs. I delivered newspapers there in the 1950s; otherwise I don't expect I would have had any reason to go there. These four dwellings were almost completely separated from the rest of the town apart from the aforementioned approach road.
At the time they were built (there were six originally) their placement mad perfect sense. The original railway line followed a straight line through Wolverton to the west of its present curve and the second station was located here to the south of the Stratford Road. The Villas (including the Station Master's house) were then on the approach road to the Station. Sir Richard Moon's later decision to by-pass the town with a new line (Moon's folly)  led to the demolition of the station and two of the villas, leaving the remaining four isolated.
I didn't know this at the time (or if I did, I was not sufficiently interested) but my great-grandfather Robert Dunleavy lived with his family at The Limes from 1890 to 1895, when he transferred to Leighton Buzzard. One of his sons and a daughter lived into their 90s and it is a pity, in retrospect, that I did not know the questions to ask.
I am therefore grateful for the research undertaken by the Wolverton Society for Arts and Heritage prior to the development of this derelict land as a garden. In their published pages is a floor plan of The Limes and a lot of detail about some of the past residents of these houses. http://www.wolvertonsecretgarden.co.uk
Robert Dunleavy came to Wolverton from Buckingham, where he had been Station Master for a decade. His eldest son Arthur had already left home to work for the L&NWR in Goods, but the two middle boys, Herbert and my grandfather Harold, both reached the age of 14 in Wolverton and began work as apprentice clerks in the Carriage and Wagon Works. Both spent their careers there. In 1895 Robert Dunleavy transferred to Leighton Buzzard, which had more traffic because of the branch line to Luton and therefore paid better. 
The villas were demolished in the 60s at the same time as the little streets were levelled.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Social class in Wolverton

The general sense we had, growing up in Wolverton in the mid-century, was that no one was very rich and there were not many poor people around either. The railway works employed skilled artisans in large numbers and therefore the inhabitants of Wolverton, New Bradwell and Stony Stratford enjoyed a reasonable standard of living.
I have just found some statistics which support that view.
It offers us these facts:
In 1951 unemployment in Wolverton UD was 0.04%. The national average was 2.5%.
The percentage of men in Class 1 (professional) and Class 2 (managerial) was 10.5% in 1951. The national average was 17.5%.
The percentage of working men in Class 3 (skilled workers and clerical) was 68%. The national average was 50%.
The percentage of working men in Classes 4 and 5 (semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers) was 21%, against a national average of 30% in 1951.
So it is not surprising that Wolverton saw itself as a working class town - and indeed voted exclusively Labour for the local council after 1945 and generally Labour in the General Election. Sir Frank Markham, born in Stony Stratford, held on to the North Bucks seat for the Conservatives with a wafer thin majority for some years until the barnstorming arrival of Robert Maxwell. 
 Refer to: http://vision.edina.ac.uk/unit_page.jsp?u_id=10199359

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Street numbering

I hadn't realized until I tried to track back the history of some of the shops that the house-numbering system of the 19th century was somewhat different to what we were used to in the 20th. The convention, still used today, was that streets were numbered odd on the left hand side and even on the right, except for the Stratford Road which was numbered consecutively on one side, for an obvious reason. This convention is established by the 1901 census.
However, the 1891 Census numbers the Stratford Road from 1 in the west, so that house number 44, then at the edge of town, becomes number 1, moving upwards as the houses move eastwards. The system of numbering the little streets appears to date from the early days of the town where each house was assigned a number by the L&NWR regardless of which street it was on, so there is a 610 Ledsam Street and a 612 Creed Street; other houses in Ledsam Street are numbered in the 500s and 400s. If you go back to the early censuses you can find houses in the earlier  Garnet and Walker Streets numbered in lower hundreds.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Wolverton Public Library


In 1949 Wolverton got its first free public library. Hitherto the Science and Art Institute's Reading Room  on Church Street had fulfilled that function. I understand that a membership fee or subscription was required.
The new library was located at 122 Church Street, a double-fronted house on the corner of Cambridge Street. It had been built and occupied 50 years earlier by a builder and had been acquired by the Wolverton Council some years later for office use.
The two front rooms served as the library - the children's library on the Cambridge Street side and the adult library on the western side of the front door.
The library ticket was a small credit-card sized cardboard folder with your name and address written on the front. Each book you borrowed ( and there were limits) had a slip which was put inside your card and filed on the date due. The due date was stamped on a paper inside the front cover. I think we were issued two cards - one for fiction and one for non-fiction. In those early days I think I was reading books illustrated by Ronald Searle (of St Trinians fame), Biggles stories about the WWI air ace, and books about Greyfriars school which featured the overweight Billy Bunter.
I believe that the council offices were at the back or upstairs. The School Dentist had a surgery here, upstairs through the side door. The lady dentist had heavy dark-rimmed glasses which gave her a severe appearance, which did not help my confidence on the occasions I went there. The drill, which ran on a system of rubber belts and pulleys was grindingly slow. The anaesthetic used for extractions was laughing gas (nitrous oxide), administered through a pink rubber mask that covered the nose and mouth. I remember the "laughing" sensation as one went down and awakening sometime later with a mouth full of blood.
The newer flat-roofed building at the back of the house was added circa 1960 and served as the library until it was moved to the renovated Market Hall in 2007.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Stratford Road - the West


To conclude our jaunt along the Stratford Road we can stop by the Craufurd Arms. It was built about 100 years ago. I see now it is for sale so it may be that yet another pub in Wolverton falls by the wayside.
Wolverton never had a plentiful supply of pubs - only the Engineers, the North Western, the Vic and the Craufurd. The Working Men's Clubs, both the "Bottom" and the 'Top" tended to thrive. In the early 50s Stony Stratford had over 20 pubs, Newport Pagnell, and even higher number, and even New Bradwell had more pubs than Wolverton. 
I am not sure why this state of affairs existed but it did mean that the pubs were always well attended.
The Craufurd had a lounge bar with its entrance on Windsor Street, a saloon bar which was the left side front room in the picture, and a public bar with its entrance on the right from Stratford Road. The Public Bar had an outside urinal, which seems to have been pulled down. I don't remember a car park so there may have been gardens on the west side.
The Craufurd had facilities to host dances and meetings. In the 1950s, Wally Odell, a former Tottenham Hotspur player was the landlord.

The Palace cinema was still operating as such on the 1950s. There was an awning at the front which served as a bus shelter. The two front doors were emergency exit doors and were never used. There were certainly no steps outside. The entrance, and the box office kiosk was at the side of the building in the alleyway.
In general, as with the Empire, a film would last three days before the program changed. There was a matinee on wednesday afternoon (well attended by shop owners and workers) and another on Saturday. the cinema closed on Sunday
In the 1960s it became a Bingo Palace. Now even that does not appear to work. I am told that there is an organization which hopes to retsore it to its cinema function. Good luck!

The Stratford Road now becomes mainly residential. At the corner of Jersey Road, a sweet shop, run beore and after the war by William Bew. Some aspects of its original function remain although it is more of a general store than it was in Bew's time. Next door at 81, Mr Pedley, ran his man's hairdressing business.
Across Jersey road, Page's Garage. It was said that Ron Page went bankrupt and the business was salvaged under his son's name - hence it was called Michael page's Garage. Ron then ran a driving school using a green Morris Minor.
The general appearance of the shop front has changed little. In the 1950s it was painted blue and there were two petrol pumps on the forecourt.


A W Gurney, "Monumental Masons" , occupied this site for many years. The front yard behind the wrought iron railings (which appear original, although in some disrepair) was full of gravestones on display.
Beyond this corner were a few more residential houses, probably built in late Edwardian times.

You can be a Dentist in Wolverton if your name begins with "W"


There were three dentists in Wolverton in the 1950s and by a curious coincidence that nobody could have planned, the surname of each began with "W". Montague Watts had his surgery at No: 36 Stratford Road - it is still a dental practice. At numbers 57 and 58, side by side, were S R Warden and G N S Weller. Both had been there since before WWII began.
At number 56, now returned to residential use, was Griffiths Brothers, shoe retailers. They also had another shop in Stony Stratford. In the 1950s the business was run by Norman Cosford. I met him a few years ago at my Uncle's funeral, still looking very fit.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Stratford Road III


The end of the long section from Radcliffe Street brings us to the back alley of Cambridge Street. Huse number 44, the white-painted one at the end was occupied in the 1950s by a Mrs Read who had a Ladies Hairdressing business at 11 the Square. At the back of this house was one of Wolverton's two off-licences. It was a "hole in the wall" onto the back alley. There you rang the bell, waited for the hatch to open, and placed your order. It was a separate residence from No. 44 at the front and, interestingly, was an off-licence in 1901. This off licence went under the improbable name of the "Drum and Monkey". There was no sign; this may been a local nickname.
The next group of four houses takes us to Cambridge Street. There are two gable-ended houses with double-fronted shops; in between numbers 46 and 47. In 1901, 45 and 47 were private houses; 46 was a drapery shop and 48 a grocer. Fifty years later Number 45 was occupied by Ewart Dale, with a double-fronted shop. 46 was private, 47 was Lloyds Bank and 48 was split between Williams ( a lingerie shop) and Jordans (a barber).
Ewart Dale was a dispensing chemist but the shop doubled as a very good photographic shop; trebled perhaps a his wife had a hair dressing salon in the back. In the age before the single lens reflex camera, Dales carried a good range of Rolleis, Zeiss and Voigtlander Cameras. He also carried standard Kodaks and a few Japanese imports. I bought a Petri rangefinder camera there; it was an affordable camera of reasonable quality. Dales came pretty close to being a specialty photographic shop and, as well as supplying film, offered enlargers and all darkroom processing materials and equipment. 
Lloyds Bak, whenever they arrived, must have built the brick facade that still shows in the photo, except that there was a doorway for 46 back in the 50s. The Unwins shop has completely changed its frontage.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Stratford Road Shops II




Number 30 Private residence
Number 31 Richardson and Grace - Grocery
Number 31 F W Stobie - Furniture

I can't recall what was at Number 34 unless it was the Pram dealers I referred to earlier.
At the far left of the picture, at Number 36, Montague Watts, Dentist. It is still a dental surgery.
Number 37 was the medical practice of Dr Lawrence and others. It was largely a Stony Stratford based practice. Before the war the practice included Dr Habgood whose son became Archbishop of York.
Number 40, still a double-fronted shop, was Kellers - fruiterer and grocer.
Number 42, presntly an Estate Agent was occupied by A A Day - Ironmonger who also sold paint and wallpaper - an early entrant into the DIY market.
I cannot remember who occupied Number 43.

Lake Brothers


The shop frontage at Number 28 has gardly changed in 50 years. In the fifties it was run by two brothers, one who lived in Hanslope and another Newport Pagnell way. They were physically dissimilar, I thought, but they were both assiduous in providing excellent customer service. If you wanted a piece of wood exactly 1ft. 11 3/4 inches, Mr Lake would disappear to the back yard, saw the wood to dimension and bring it back . If you only needed 29 1" screws these were counted out and supplied in a white paper bag. No blister packs in those days.
Vic Old was also working there as a young man. I assume he started there straight from school and when the Lake Brothers retired he bought the business and continued, I assume, to his own retirement. He had a very good manner with customers.
Obviously the present owners inherited a lot of old stock and for nostalgia seekers like myself have kindly placed them in one of their display windows. It does remind me of many a happy hour spent as a boy building a Keil Kraft model plane out of balsa wood and tissue. You could also buy cellulose dope to tighten and waterproof the tissue skin. It was highly aromatic and I suspect that health and safety regulations would prevent its sale today.
The cabinet in the window used to contain shotgun cartridges and airgun pellets. This was another side of Lake's business. The guns were displayed in the west side window. This probably explains why the shop had a wrought iron locking gate. 

Stratford Road Shops



The second tranche of shops developed along the Stratford Road between Radcliffe and Cambridge Streets.
The Roman Catholic Church, St Francis de Sales, stood at the corner of Radcliffe Street and next to it, at Number 22 was the Presbytery. There were relatively few Roman Catholic families in North Bucks in the 1950s. I expect that proportion has changed in the intervening years.
Numbers 23 and 24 were private residences.
I am not sure about this but I think there was a shop here that sold prams. They may well have sold other goods of a similar nature. The name of the shop may have been Chamberlain and Norman; I am really not sure.
At Number 26 the Eastern Electricity Board had their showrooms. All large electrical appliances - cookers, fridges, electric fires - could be purchased here, or viewed here and purchased somewhere else. The Gas Board had a similar showroom on the corner of Buckingham Street and Radcliffe Street.
The shop wiyth the yellow frontage was Newson's - drapers and haberdashers. They also had the franchise to supply girl's school uniform for the Grammar School. Boys were supplied from Chowns on Church Street. Earlier in the 1950s this shop was occupied by B J Chaplin, who also had a similar shop in New Bradwell.
At Number 28, Lake Brothers, Ironmongers, Gunsmiths and hobby retailers.
Number 29, which is now obviously a greengrocer, was Barclays Bank. There was no awning' a plain frontage, solid oak double doors, and a brass plate on the wall. Opening hours were 10 to 3. It was assumed in those days that the only people using banks (business and some members of the middle class) would be able to fit into bankers hours. Working people in the 1950s were paid in cash weekly; they had no need for banks. In fairness to the banks, ledgers were still maintained in pen and ink, and they probably needed the two hours at the end of the day to cash up and complete their ledgers.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Front V

Numbers 16 to 20 complete this section of the Stratford Road to Radcliffe Street at "Foster's Corner.
Foster Brothers had a men's clothing store at Number 20, or, as they would say in those days, "Gentleman's Outfitters". They sold  socks, underwear, shirts, hats, trousers, jackets and suits and walking sticks. Men's clothing was invariably tailored, although "off the peg" clothing was being introduced. Jackets and trousers of more-or-less stock sizes were kept at Fosters and alterations then made by the resident tailor.
Next door at 19 was Grices - a cake and pastry shop. I believe they were a Bedford company.
Faithfull Brothers, New Bradwell-based bakers, moved in to No. 18 at about this time. Hitherto this shop had been the Maypole Grocery or Pearkes.
No 17 had been occupied by a chemist, W. Mackerness, since before the war. He retired in 1955 or 6 and sold the business to a Mr Escott who came from outside the town and bought a house in Cambridge Street.
At Number 16, J Canvin, a butcher. Canvins were also butchers at Stony Stratford - the same family but not, I think,  the same business.

The Front IV


The North Western was one of four pubs in Wolverton. The publican was Stan Weir. I rarely went into this pub - the Craufurd being my haunt. The last occasion I went inside was a New Years Eve. As I was leaving with my friends someone near the door tried to throw a jacket over my head and aim a punch at me. Fortunately for me he was so drunk that he missed the target and hit someone else, who then retaliated. We left the brawl to develop and I never set foot inside again. I have no idea who my potential antagonist was or what was his motivation.
There was only one door into the pub, in the centre where there is now a window. There were about two steps up.
Next to the North Western, at Number 12, E. Sigwart and Son, Jewellers. Sigwarts were established prior to the war. I do remember some great excitement when Sigwarts were robbed. The perpetrator was not very bright, or at least he had not thought through his getaway plan, for, having relieved Sigwarts of some jewellery and watches he legged it to the Station, where presumably he expected to catch a train that would take him to safety!

The Grafton Cycle Company occupied Numbers 13 and 14. The left side shop was used for cycle repair and the right side as a "showroom". I use the word loosely because the Grafton never worried too much about appearance - the floorboards were bare and worn and the walls were generally unpainted. They also sold petrol.
I believe a plumber, A Rogers from Stony Stratford also occupied the back of number 13.

Freeman, Hardy and Willis operated a chain of shoe shops. Number 15 Stratford Road was one of them.

The Front III

This building, Number 9, has changed very little in 50 years. The wooden sash windows are still in place upstairs and the shop front plate glass framing remains unchanged. In the 1950s, Number 9 on the left was a Muscutt and Tompkins stationery shop, managed by Mrs Tompkins. On the right, Numbered 9a, the firm of Johnsons, the Estate Agents occupied the premises. They also had offices in Bletchley and, I believe, Stony Stratford. 
At Number 10 - Davis Brothers - Removal Contractors. I probably paid no attention to this shop when I was young. The upper bay window was there in the 1950s but the shop frontage has changed.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Front II


This photograph was taken this year. All of the buildings have survived over a century but facades, windows and doors have changed.
The Stratford Road was numbered from 1 consecutively. Here are buildings 1 to 8.
In the mid 1950s this is how they were occupied.
The Royal Engineer Hotel is the large building at the end; it dates from the 1840s. In the lower part was The Gordon Restaurant.
The single story section, numbers 2 to 5, were probably purpose-built as lock-up shops from the outset.
Nuber 2, with a corner entrance - Clarke and Sons, Seedsmen and Florists. They maintained a nursery at Castlethorpe.
No. 3 This was a tobacconist with a window display of pipes, pipe tins, cigarettes and cigars. I do not know the name of the owner.
No. 4 The London Central Meat Company - Butchers. they also had another outlet on Green Lane, next to the off-licence. A few years later this company became Baxters.
No. 5 Muscutt & Tompkins, Newsagents. This was a thriving business in the 50s, selling newspapers, magazines and cigarettes. They operated most of the paper rounds in the town. Bill Tompkins had retired at this time, although he would usually walk up daily from his house next to the Palace Cinema to check on things. The business was managed by his son Ralph - a rather anxious man - and assisted by his sister Joyce and her husband. Mrs Tompkins (snr and jnr) ran the Stationery shop at Number 9.
No. 6 According to the 1955 phone book this shop was occupied by W. Barratt and Co. I have no memory of this.
No. 7  Prudential Assurance.
No 8 Lampitts. They were Radio sales and repair but in this period they were busy selling and renting television sets. TV sets came  with either a 9 inch or 12 inch screen in those early days. Gradually they got larger. The "console" models were built as a finished and polished cabinet with doors that could close over the screen when it was not in use.
Although ITV broadcasting began in 1955, I don't think it came to Wolverton until Anglia television was established in 1959.Viewere did get ITV before that but on the fringe of the London transmission.

The Front I


The Stratford Road was known as “The Front”. And indeed it was the front of the town with the main road running along it and all of the residential and commercial part of the town being behind it. Unlike most other towns which could grow either side of the High Street, Wolverton could not, because the entire length of the Stratford Road was occupied by the Carriage and Waggon Works and McCorquodales, protected (if that is the right word) by a 10’ high brick wall.
The Stratford Road assumed more importance after Cooke Street, Bury Street, Walker Street and Garnett Street had been flattened to make room for works expansion and shops gravitated to Church Street and the Stratford Road. This happened around 1860. Gradually houses expanded westward, the last of the old terraced houses being built in Edwardian times.
I want to explore the shops as they used to be in the mid-1950s. The photo above illustrates how it appeared back then. The road was only busy (mostly with buses) between 7:15 and 7:45 on weekday mornings and again after 5:30pm. Most shopping was done on foot and the odd car might turn up every now and then for fueling at the pump operated by the Grafton Cycle Co. The pump hose was on an arm which coud be swung across the pavement. There were no petrol forecourts in those days.

Wolverton Grammar School 1954


In 1954 the school decided to abandon the whole-school panorama in favour of class photos. I suppose the Headmaster thought that this plan was less disruptive, although the panorama returned the following year due to popular demand.
Our class was called 2M - M for Metcalfe, who was out French teacher as well as our Form teacher. Christine Metcalfe was the daughter of a Lincolnshire farmer who had studied French at a French University and was much more lively than her senior French teacher, the wooden Mr Thomas who had been at the school since my mother's School Certificate year - 1931. 
Mr Thomas had been our introduction to French the previous year. "Toto entre!" was the first sentence in French that we were taught. If we misbehaved in the slightest we would be required to stand: "Levez vous Monsieur Dunleavy!"
Miss Metcalfe was a breath of fresh air after that. A couple of years after this photo wastaken she married Harry Johnson, a Biology teacher who came to us (I think) in January 1955. Our first year Biology teacher was Miss Jones. She left and was replaced by a Mr White who was so terrified of us that he spent the entire lesson scribbling notes furiously on the blackboard leaving us to desperately catch up. His tenure was short-lived and I would guess that he was quietly advised to move on. Mr Johnson was a very different kettle of fish; he wasn't terrified of us - we were scared of him!
I should add that we had no text books in those days and notes taken from the teacher were our only record of new knowledge.

1954 Form 2M
Back Row: Anne Wyatt, Margaret Bird, Shirley Petts, Pamela Bellamy, Anne Adams. Mary Barnett, Margaret Skinner, Linda Gamble, Bryan Dunleavy, Roger Norman, Francis White, Marcus Towell, Robert Gentles, Michael Brooks
Middle Row:  Valerie Dufton, Sheila Clarkson, Janet Haynes, Margaret Mayo, Dorothy Bennett,Jill Carter, Linda Gilbert, Geoffrey Farrington, Roger Brewer, Christopher Thomas, Robert Crocker, Scott McBurnie, Barry Lines
Front Row: Julia Sharpe, Molly Holmes, Linda Grace, Mildred Willis, Christine Metcalfe, James Franklin, Peter Bush, Graham Lenton, David Wilmin
The cost of this photo, mounted in a brown envelope (in which it stayed for 50 years) was 4/-. (four shillings)

Wolverton Grammar School


Detailed views below

I entered the Grammar School in September 1953. At that age you assume that everything has always been there and it was not until much later that I discovered that it had only become a Grammar School after the Education Act of 1944. Fees were abolished and admission was based upon selection - the notorious 11+. This also meant that everything you needed (apart from a pen) was supplied - exercise books, file paper, drawing pencils (coloured green as I recall), protractor and compass. All this was administered by Mrs Burley, the school secretary, from the Stock Cupboard every Monday.
Boys could wear either a navy blue blazer or a grey flannel suit. Girls wore white blouses and grey "gym-slips" as they were known. In the summer girls were allowed to wear cotton dresses which were coloured according to House - Pink for Red House (Wolverton, New Bradwell), Yellow for Yellow House (Stony Stratford, Bletchley), and Green for Green House (Newport Pagnell, Olney).
I see from the photo that girls from the 3rd to 5th form wore Navy tunics and 6th form girls wore grey skirts.

We all wore dark green silk ties with narrow red and yellow diagonal stripes. Boys wore peaked caps. I don't recall what girls wore on their heads but it may have been some sort of grey bonnet. 
Uniform was rigidly enforced. I do recall one scene on a rainy lunchtime when an older girl was unwise enough to wear a clear plastic headscarf (probably just been invented)  and Miss Full, the Senior Mistress ripped it off her head and gave her a serious tongue-lashing with, I imagine, more to follow.




Wolverton County School 1931 - detail





Wolverton County School 1931





The school photo was something of a perfomance to organize and a welcome intrusion into the school day. Chairs from classrooms and step-up benches from the gym would be hauled out and assembled on the playing fields. Once everyone had been placed the panoramic camera would whir through its clockwork motion until it had captured everyone. There were always apocryphal stories of someone at one end running round the back to appear for the second time in the same picture, but I doubt that anyone would have dared.
This photo cost 1/6d in 1931.
Readable versions of the photo are offered in sections below.
I can of course identify my mother and uncle in this picture, but pupils from the 40s and 50s should be able to identify - Robert Eyles (English), Reginald Long (Physics), James Thomas (French), Zillah Full (Girls Games). I think Miss Nurdin (Maths), who became Mrs Eyles, is in the picture, but I cannot identify her.